Tight budget stretches CDOT resources
SUMMIT COUNTY – When the snow falls in earnest, as it has the past few days, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) plows take to the streets.
But not as often as some CDOT plow drivers based in Summit County would like.
The state agency always gets its share of complaints from citizens saying the roads aren’t being cleared of ice and snow fast enough, but now some employees are grumbling about the lack of overtime pay they’ve come to expect over the years.
Blame it on a tight – and ever-tightening – state budget, said Stacey Stegman, public relations official for the agency.
“We’re leaner than we’ve ever been,” she said. “We’re trying to watch our budget. Times have been tough. We’ve experienced cuts in every area of the department. Everywhere we can save will go back out on the road in some project or another.”
Management changes play into the equation, as well.
“They’re paying a lot more attention to where money is being spent,” Stegman said of maintenance superintendent Fred Schultz. “And he’s made his expectations very clear.”
Seventy plow drivers maintain highways in a maintenance region that comprises Summit and parts of Clear Creek, Grand and Eagle counties. Of those, 39 are based in Summit County.
In the past, they picked up overtime. One plow driver said he routinely worked 70 hours a week – enough to pay his mortgage on the Front Range and his rent in the High Country.
But a tight state budget has resulted in tighter schedules. And because plowers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they can’t always hold second jobs to make up the difference.
“In the past, the expectation was that they’d naturally get overtime,” Stegman said.
“But now, we have a schedule based on need. If we don’t have to pay overtime, we’re not going to. But we will when necessary. We will never let funding become an issue when taking care of the highways. If there’s a storm that requires our crews to work overtime, that’s the way it is.”
The budget for this maintenance region last year was $1,153,066 compared to $1,325,641 in 2002. Of that, $714,901 – 62 percent – was spent in Summit County last year, compared to $816,250 in 2002.
Additionally, CDOT has paid more overtime in the past three months of last year than it did in 2002 – 2,739 hours last year compared to 2,717 in those same three months in 2002.
A lot of that is because of weather, but it’s also because it’s difficult to find seasonal employees, particularly in resort areas where the cost of living is so high, Stegman said.
A new plow driver makes between $13.34 and $18.72 an hour – with year-round benefits – and an experienced driver makes between $18.36 and $23.89.
“We have to be prudent with our dollars,” Stegman said. “We’re not going to pay overtime for someone sweeping a maintenance shed, but we will pay overtime when we need roads plowed.”
Despite a tight budget, Interstate 70 was closed fewer times in the past four months of 2003 than it was during the same period in 2002.
According to CDOT statistics, Interstate 70 from Georgetown to Glenwood Springs closed 14 times for a total of 28 hours from September to December 2002.
In the same time period in 2003, CDOT closed the interstate eight times for a total of 17.5 hours.
Yet, during that four-month period last year, CDOT put the chain law into effect 58 times for a total of 714 hours. That compares with 50 times and 634 hours in the last four months of 2002, Stegman said.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or email@example.com.
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